Four challenging books make for good summer reading

13 A Woman Is No ManRocky Mount writer Etaf Rum, author of “A Woman Is No Man,” grew up in a Palestinian immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1990s and 2000s. Her book is based on experiences in that community. We first meet Isra, a 17-year-old girl living in Palestine. Her family arranges marriage to an older man, Adam, who owns a deli and lives with his parents and siblings in Brooklyn, New York. Living in Adam’s family’s basement, Isra becomes a virtual servant to Adam’s mother, Fareeda, who pushes the couple to have children, males who can build the family’s reputation and influence. Isra produces four children, but because they are all girls Fareeda shows her displeasure.

Years later after Adam and Isra die, Fareeda raises the girls. The oldest, Deya, is a high school senior. Fareeda looks for a Palestinian man for her to marry. Deya wants to go to college, but she is afraid to bolt her family and the community’s customs. She knows of women who have stood up against male domination and then faced beatings and even death.

As Rum explains, the book “meant challenging many long-held beliefs in my community and violating our code of silence.” 

Elaine Neil Orr’s novel, “Swimming Between Worlds,” is set in 1950s Winston-Salem and Nigeria. The coming-of-age and love story is enriched by the overlay of the Nigerian struggle and the civil rights protests in Winston-Salem.

Tacker Hart, with an architectural degree at N.C. State, got a plum assignment to work in Nigeria, where he became so captivated by Nigerian culture, religion, and ambience that his white supervisors sent him home. Back in Winston-Salem, he falls for Kate Monroe, from one of Winston’s leading families. They become connected to Gaines, a young African-American college student who drags Tacker and Kate into his work organizing protest movements at lunch counters.

Orr blends civil rights and romance for a poignant and unexpected ending. 

Raleigh News & Observer political reporter and columnist Rob Christensen’s “The Rise and Fall of the Branchhead Boys” follows the Alamance County farm family of North Carolina governors Kerr Scott and his son Robert.

 He describes how Kerr Scott defeated the favored gubernatorial candidate of the conservative wing of the party in 1948 and adopted a liberal program of road-building, public school improvement and expanded government services. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1954 as a liberal in a campaign managed by future Governor Terry Sanford. Once elected, Christensen writes, Scott nevertheless joined with fellow southerners to oppose civil rights legislation and became “just another segregationist, little different from most of the southern caucus.”

Christensen then follows the political career of Kerr’s son, Bob Scott, who when elected governor in 1968, faced mountains of bitter controversies in the areas of race, labor, student unrest and higher education administration. 

 In “Freedom Fighters and Hell Raisers: A Gallery of Memorable Southerners,” famed essayist Hal Crowther has collected a sampling of his best work — columns about memorable southerners — including Will Campbell, James Dickey, Marshall Frady, John Hope Franklin, Jesse Helms, Molly Ivins, Frank M. Johnson, George Wallace and Doc Watson.

All are dead, and Crowther, without funeralizing, sizes up their character and contributions.

Crowther’s essay about blind musician Doc Watson is my favorite. Neither blindness nor the loss of his beloved son, Merle, could keep him from using his music to bring people of all backgrounds and political persuasions to be moved by his songs and guitar playing.

 We need Crowther’s freedom fighters and hell raisers, but the real heroes will be folks like Watson who bring us together. 

Why are Carolina Native American tribes at war with each other?

13LoweryRecently, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr wrote a newspaper column criticizing the Eastern Band of the Cherokee for opposing the South Carolina-based Catawba Tribe’s efforts to acquire land near Kings Mountain to build a casino. Burr also criticized the Cherokees for lobbying against full recognition for the Lumbee tribe because they view it as a threat to their federal benefits and gaming business.

In a response published in the June 23 News & Observer, Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, stated, “Actually, the Eastern Band has opposed Lumbee recognition legislation for literally a century, long before tribal gaming. The Lumbees have claimed to be a Cherokee tribe and at least three other historic tribes over the years, and their identity as an historic tribe and as individual descendants of an historic tribe has been questioned for many, many years.”

So, what are the facts? Where did the Lumbee people come from? How are they different from other Native Americans, and how are they alike?

Malinda Maynor Lowery, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill associate professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the American South, takes on this challenge in her new book, “The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle.”

As a member of the Lumbee tribe with deep family roots in the Lumbee community, Lowery brings more than scholarship to her explanation of her people’s origins and history. She weaves her family’s experience with the defining events in Lumbee history. The main characters in Lumbee and family history turn out to be a fascinating blend of characters, heroes and scoundrels, preachers and bootleggers, lawyers and lawbreakers, and farmers, all deeply attached to the swampy lands along the Lumber River in Robeson County.

In the early 1700s, as early American Indian tribes were decimated by disease and the relentless pressure from European settlement, remnants from these groups made their way to the Lumber River (then called Downing Creek). By the 1750s, Lowery writes, “the people of Downing Creek and its swamps knit together families and places. They traced belonging through kinship, spoke English and farmed.”

Lowery cites reports of violent action in 1773 at Downing Creek that included the names of “Chavis, Locklear, Grooms, Ivey, Sweat, Kearsey, and Dial families, all ancestors of today’s Lumbees.”

During and after the Civil War, Henry Berry Lowry and his gang made war on the white establishment. Though Lowry escaped punishment, a cohort, Henderson Oxendine, was captured and hanged in 1871. For his last words, he sang “Amazing Grace" and “And Can I Yet Delay,” an old Methodist hymn. Oxendine is Malinda Lowery’s great-great-grandfather. Henry Berry Lowry is remembered and revered in the community as the Lumbee Robin Hood.

In the post-Civil War and Jim Crow times, Lumbees fought for Indian schools, state recognition and a tribal name, finally settling on the Lumbee name in the 1950s.

One defining event in Lumbee history occurred in 1958 when a large group of Lumbees disrupted a Ku Klux Klan rally near Maxton and chased its leaders away, gaining positive national attention for the Lumbee.

The Lumbee effort for federal recognition gained partial success in 1956 with the passage of the Lumbee Act. It recognized the tribe as Indian but did not make its people eligible for the benefits accorded other recognized tribes.

As for the future, Lowery closes her book with a strong argument for full recognition of the Lumbee. “Under pressure of European settlement, our ancestors abandoned many of our oldest homeplaces, but having existed for nearly 300 years along the Lumber River, we will not forsake this place.”

Lowery may not persuade everyone that the Lumbee tribe should gain full recognition. But what she has shown conclusively is that the Lumbee people are entitled to respect, admiration and appreciation for their 300-plus years struggle to build and hold their community together.

Photo: Malinda Maynor Lowery

UNC—Built by fire and stone

12 Fire StoneThe boundaries of the university should be “coterminous with the boundaries of the state.” Leaders of the University of North Carolina often use this language to embrace a wider partnership with the entire state.

The words came from a University Day speech by Edward Kidder Graham, although he used the term “co-extensive” rather than “coterminous.”

Graham was UNC’s president from 1913, when he was named acting president, until his death in 1918, a victim of the flu epidemic that scorched the nation at the end of World War I.

In his recent book, “Fire and Stone: The Making of the University of North Carolina under Presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Harry Woodburn Chase,” Greensboro author Howard Covington explains how the “fire” of Graham and the “stone” of his successor Chase transformed UNC from a quiet liberal arts institution into a respected university equipped to provide an academic experience that prepared students to participate in a growing commercial, industrial, and agricultural New South.

At the time Graham became president, approximately1,000 students were enrolled at the university. The campus consisted primarily of a few buildings gathered around the South Building and Old Well. Classrooms and living quarters were crowded and in bad condition.

In his brief time as president, the youthful and charismatic Graham pushed the university to reach out across the state. Speaking at churches, alumni gatherings, farmers’ groups, and wherever a place was open to him, he preached that universities should help identify the state’s problems and opportunities and then devote its resources to respond to them.

Graham’s ambitious plans to transform the university were interrupted by World War I when the campus and its programs were disrupted and then commandeered by the military.

His death shortly after the war ended left the university without a magnetic and motivational figure to carry out his plans and vision. That task fell upon Henry Chase, a native of Massachusetts who had gained Graham‘s trust as a teacher and talented academic leader.

Although he did not have Graham’s charisma, Chase had something else that made him an appropriate successor to the visionary Graham. He had an academic background and a talent for recruiting faculty members who supported Graham’s and Chase’s vision.

Building on Graham’s plans and the enthusiasm that had been generated, Chase took advantage of the public pressure on the legislature to secure the resources to expand the campus. He organized and found support for university programs that included the graduate and professional training needed to serve the public throughout the state, as Graham had hoped.

By 1930, when Chase left UNC to lead the University of Illinois, the UNC campus had more than doubled in size, and the student body approached 3,000 including 200 graduate students. His successor, Frank Porter Graham, was Edward Kidder Graham’s first cousin.

Chase’s ride to success had been a bumpy one. For instance, in 1925, about the time of the Scopes-evolution trial in Tennessee, Chase faced a similar uprising in North Carolina from religious leaders who attacked the university because some science instructors were teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The state legislature considered and came close to passing a law to prohibit teaching of evolution.

Chase respectfully countered this attack, always emphasizing the point that Christianity was at the university’s core. His strong defense of freedom of speech gained him admiration of the faculty and many people throughout the state.

Covington writes that Chase “took the flame that Graham had ignited and used it to build a university and move it into the mainstream of American higher education.”

Without Graham’s fire and Chase’s stone, UNC would not have become what it is today, one of the most admired universities in the country.

Downtown Summer Nights concert series offers free music and fun

10 summer nightsLocal bands. Diverse dining options. Fayetteville community. Downtown Summer Nights, a concert series presented by Cumberland Tractor Kubota of Fayetteville, has transformed Person Street into a full-blown block party every Thursday night this summer. 

“We had almost 3,000 people on Person Street,” said Kelly West, promotions and marketing director for Rock 103, about the night The Embers performed. “Everyone (came) down to shag. They even wore their shagging shoes.” Regional tribute bands Legacy Motown, Sidewinder and 20 Ride, a Zac Brown Band tribute, are a few more of this summer’s hits, West said.

Every genre from classic rock to 80s ballads, and plenty more, is  featured in the programming. There’s something for everyone, according to West. “We’ve had every kind of person down here, every walk of life, everything,” including families. The Kids Zone, presented by Fascinate-U Children’s Museum and sponsored by ShineLight, includes an inflatable house, crafts and other activities that change weekly. Popular activities have involved everything from making slime to growing chia pets.

Most importantly, the concert series highlights the brick and mortar on Person Street, said Isabella Effon, a member of the Cool Spring Downtown District Board of Directors. “I was the only one programming Person Street,” Effon said, referring to her time as a restaurant owner before spearheading Summer Nights Downtown with West. Effon also had Person Street in mind when she started the African World Peace Festival. “We’ve seen growth. There’s so much on Person Street, too.”

West and Effon provide crowd-pleasing food trucks, but they also encourage concertgoers to try the eateries lining Person Street. In fact, the food trucks were recently relocated to the parking lot next to Person Street to draw attention to restaurants like The Sweet Palette, Circa 1800, The Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop and, soon, Taste of West Africa, which Effon is planning to open after the summer.

“It’s opening people’s eyes to businesses that people have never paid attention to,” Effon said. “(It benefits) not only Person Street, but the whole downtown district.” According to West, shops like Ro’s Corner Barber Shop and Back-A-Round Records have also gotten more business since the series’ opening.

In the spirit of being community-minded, Summer Nights Concerts always has a local musician perform the National Anthem. Former “American Idol” contestants, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers and even Fort Bragg’s own Sargeant Mahoon have led or will lead the community in the Star-Spangled Banner this summer.

Downtown Summer Nights concerts will finish its first run with three August shows. Local band Tyrek and Lotus Sun will open the Aug. 8 show, headlined by Sail On: The Beach Boys Tribute. On Aug. 15, 80’s Unplugged and an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band will take the stage. The season closes Aug. 22 with Dead City Symphony and Heart Breaker, a female-fronted Heart and Led Zeppelin tribute band.

The community can expect this year’s favorites, plus some surprises, to make an appearance at next year’s Downtown Summer Nights. “The Embers will be back. Legacy Motown will be back. (The) Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band will be back,” said West. She hinted that there may be completely new forms of entertainment next year as well.

Downtown Summer Nights concerts take place every Thursday through June 20-Aug. 22 on the 100 block of Person St., next to Ro’s Corner Barber Shop. Admission is free. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and music begins at 6 p.m. The event is brought to the public by Cumberland Tractor Kubota of Fayetteville, Cumulus Media, Cool Spring Downtown District and Five Star Entertainment. To become a vender, or for more information, call Kelly West at 509-901-3467.

‘Crawdads’: Is the best-seller really ours?

11CrawdadsNorth Carolina likes to be No. 1 — at everything.

We declare ourselves to be “First in Flight.” But it took a couple of Ohio boys to make that happen.

We declare ourselves to be “First in Freedom” based on the May 20, 1775, Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, a controversial claim that many historians dispute.

We also love it when books written by North Carolinians or set in our state become No. 1 best-sellers on The New York Times list.

So this year we are bragging about “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a book set in the fictional eastern North Carolina town of Barkley Cove, and the surrounding marshes, coves and ocean waters.

This book by Delia Owens has been on the Times’ list, usually at No. 1, for 35 weeks.

But there is a problem. We will get to that in a moment, after we consider a few things about the book that explain why it has already sold more than 2 million copies.

“Crawdads” is literary fiction with strong writing and lovely descriptions of nature’s plants and creatures. A compelling murder mystery with an unexpected ending gives readers a superior entertainment experience.

Owens is a fan of “A Sand County Almanac,” a book of nature-themed essays by Aldo Leopold. She wanted to write a book with a similar nature focus, but one that also has a strong storyline.

“Crawdads” is the result. Its success demonstrates that the combination of good writing, a solid story and interesting information about serious topics can be a commercial success.

The book’s central character, Catherine Clark or “Kya,” lives by herself in a shack in the marshes, miles away from town. People in Barkley Cove think she is weird, keep their distance, and call her “the Marsh Girl.” She spent only one day in school and cannot read or write. However, because she is smart and diligent, she learns about the nature of the marshes.

She meets Tate Walker, a young man from Barkley Cove. He senses her strengths and shares her love of plants and animals. He teaches her to read and write, and falls in love with her.

When Tate leaves Kya behind to study science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she is devastated. But she rebounds to the seductive charms of Chase Andrews, a town football hero and big shot. Their secret affair is interrupted by Chase’s marriage to another woman, and Kya is again distraught.

Overcoming these disappointments, Kya leverages her reading, writing and self-taught artistic talents to record the nature world that surrounds her. When Tate, now a scientist, returns to her life, he persuades her to submit her work for publication. That book is a great success, and she writes and illustrates several more.

All this is background for the story that begins on the first pages of the book. Chase is found dead at the bottom of an old fire tower. Kya is a suspect and is ultimately charged, arrested, put in prison and tried for Chase’s murder.

The author’s deftness in setting up this situation, and resolving it smoothly, has helped make it a best-seller. “Crawdads” gained the attention of beloved actress Reese Witherspoon. Fox 2000 has acquired film rights and plans for Witherspoon to be the producer.

We can hope that the movie will be shot in North Carolina. But here, the book’s problem jumps up. The geography described in the book, with palmettos and deep marshes adjoining ocean coves, seems to fit South Carolina or Georgia coastal landscapes better than North Carolina’s coastlands.

Nevertheless, whatever the moviemakers decide, North Carolinians can bask in the reflected glory of a No. 1 best-seller that claims our state for its setting.

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